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Chapter 9 Psycholinguistics. The fourteenth week. Chapter 9 Psycholinguistics. 9.5 language and Thought. Key points . 9.5.1 language determines thought 9.5.2 Thought determines language 9.5.3 Arguments afainst the Sair-Whorf Hypothesis. Difficulties .

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Chapter 9 Psycholinguistics

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Chapter 9 Psycholinguistics

The fourteenth week


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Chapter 9 Psycholinguistics

  • 9.5 language and Thought


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Key points

  • 9.5.1 language determines thought

  • 9.5.2 Thought determines language

  • 9.5.3 Arguments afainst the Sair-Whorf Hypothesis


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Difficulties

  • 9.5.1 language determines thought: Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • 9.5.2 Thought determines language


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Some questions

  • Suppose we believe we can’t think clearly without using language, what about those deaf and mute pople?

  • If they do not have a language, do they think without language or they do not think at all?

  • Then what about children of two or three years old?

  • Their language is certainly not adequate enough.


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a wide range of opinions about the general nature of the relationship between language and thought

  • (1) Classical theorists like Plato and Aristotle argued that the categories of thought determine the categories of language. To them, language is only the outward form or expression of thought.

  • Plato: Thought and language were identical.

  • Aristotle: mankind could not have the same languages and languages were but signs of psychological experiences.

  • (2) An spposing view was expressed by the behaviorist J. B. Watson, an American psychologist and the founder of Behaviorism. According to him, thought is language. He believed hat thought is sub-vocal speech, that is , when we “think aloud,” it is called speech; when we “speak covertly,” it is called thinking.

  • (3) A less radical position is that language determines thought. According to this view, the categories of thought are determined by linguistic categories. Theorists within this group are divided between those who think that language completely determines cognitive categories and those who merely say that language strongly influences cognitive categories.

  • (4) We can still say that there are mainly two groupsa: those who believe that language determines thought and those who think that thought determines language. So the whole question we concerned with here is whether out thoughts are formed in advance of the words that we utter or whether out ideas are formed in terms of the words themselves.


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9.5.1 language determines thought

  • In Chinese, there is only a single term luotuo(骆驼), in English there is camel. But in Arabic, there are more than 400 words for the animal. The Eskimo language has a large number of words involving snow. For example, apun= “snow on the ground”, qanikca= “hard snow on the ground”, utak= “block of snow”.


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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • E. Sapir and B. Lee Whorf tell us that language system forms thought or is necessary for thought, and a particular language imposes particulr ideas of nature or of one’s culture. This view is generally referred to as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis or Whorfian Hypothiesis.


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Sapir-Whorf Hypothsis has two versions

  • The first is called linguistic dterminism (the strong version )

  • The second part is called linguistic relativity (the weak version


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linguistic dterminism (the strong version

  • Language determines thought

  • Which says that linguistic structure determines cognitive structure.

  • That is, learning a language changes the way a person thinks.


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linguistic relativity : the weak version

  • speakers of different languages perceive and experience the world differently, that is, relative to their linguistic background.

  • Which says that the resulting cognitive systems are different in speakers of different languages.


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Whorf states that language is not only reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas

  • Eskimo for example, have separate words for different types of snow.

  • A child who grows up speaking such a language will devlop more cognitive categories for snow than will an Enaglish-speaking child.

  • When the former looks out at a snowy environment, he will, in some sense, see it differen


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Whorf claimed that the perceptual events that we experience can be very different from those experienced by a speaker of another language who is standing beside us

  • Take the “rainbow” as example: the colour we perceive come from color-naming influence of the language. Some languages do not divide the colors into the same number of basic categories. A speaker of that language will not describe the rainbow in the same way as Engish speakers do.


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Does the fact that a language does nt have separate terms for certain phenomena mean that the users of this language are unable to distinguish these phenonmenea from others?

  • (1) It may not be possible to translate one language into another with term-for-term correspondence. However, it is possible to preserve some part of the original meaning in another languge.

  • (2) Secondly, there are bilinguals among the general population in most communities who can express their ideas freely in two or more languages.

  • (3) Thirdly, languages borrow words from each other fairly frequently, which denomstrates that the existing vocabulary does not exhaust the discrimination of which the language users are capable.

  • So a more acceptable conclusion might be that “languages differ not so much as to what can be sid in them, but rather as to what it is relatively easy to say” (Hockett, 1954: 122).


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9.5.2 Thought determines language

  • Those who believe that thought determines language would say that cognitive development comes earlier in the life of children

  • Cognitive categories they develop determine the linguistic categories that they will acquire.


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B. Berlin and P. Kay’s experiment in 1969

  • It is a case to test the validity of the Sapir-WhorfHypothesis.

  • It was concerned with how speakers of different languages divide up the color spectrum: They used an array of 329 colors which they prsented to speakers of 20 diverse languages.

  • Berlin and Kay first tried to find out the bsic color terms in each language.

  • After they found the basic color terms of a language, they then presented the array of 329 colors to the speaker of that language and asked the subject to name the colors and draw lines around them.

  • After that, the speakers of the 20 languages were asked to amrk with an “X” the most typical example of each color in their basic color vocabulary. This was called the focal color.


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a number of important results

  • First, the basic color vocabularies of the 20 languages are restrictd to a small set of terms.

  • Second, the focal color terms are the same across the 20 languages. That is, if language A ahs four basic color terms and language B has six, the four focal clors chosen by speakers of A will closely correspond to the four of the six focal colors chosen by speakers of B.


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It is on the contrary to Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • For our purposes, the importance of Berlin and Kay’s word is that it strongly argues against the hypothesis that languages are free to divide the world of experience in any convenient way.

  • In the realm of colors, at least, there appear to be some basic constraints that limit the way in which this aspect of our experience is coded in the language. This conclusion is directly contrary to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.


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It is on the contrary to Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • If the strong version of the Spir-Whorf Hypothesis is accepted, i.e. langage totally determines thought, there will be no thought without language.

  • If there are no constraints on the variation to be found between people in the way they think, speakers of different languages will never see the world in the same way.

  • It also follows that if one can find a way to control the language that people learn, one would thereby be able to control their thughts.

  • Therefore, if the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is true, then we are helplessly trapped by the language we speak. We could not escape from it and even if we could.

  • What is more, if language determines thought, people speaking diverse languages would never understand each other. The fact is that people of the world have been communicatiing over the centuries.


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9.5.3 Arguments afainst the Sair-Whorf Hypothesis

  • Words and meaning

  • Grammatical structure

  • Translation

  • Second language acquisition

  • Language and world views


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Assignments

  • I. Define the following terms:

  • (1) Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • (2) linguistic determinism

  • (3) linguistic relativity

  • II. “I knlow what I want tosay, but I can’t find the word.” What implication does this phenomenon have for the language and thought controversy?


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